|Only thing Lady Panthers lose is coin flip|
|Tyler Clifton | News-Telegram Sports Writer|
May 12, 2,004 -- PARIS -- Jim Westbrook needs to lose the coin toss more often.
The North Hopkins head coach has been on the short end of the pre-game flip for his team's first two playoff games, forcing his Lady Panthers to hit first on both occasions. It's paid nothing but dividends so far.
NHHS sent 14 batters to the plate in the first inning and scored eight runs on its way to a 13-0, five-inning victory over Sam Rayburn at Paris Junior College in the area round of the playoffs.
This group of Lady Panthers (15-9) has now advanced to the regional semifinals for the first time in the school's history and will face McLeod next week at a time and site to be determined, possibly Tuesday night at Mount Pleasant.
Six of the nine NH starters had two hits, with all but one scoring in the first inning. It made life easy for pitcher Lacie Palmer, who left to warm up during the inning to stay fresh. It showed on the field.
Palmer allowed only three hits, struck out two and didn't walk a batter, while the defense committed only a meaningless error in the final inning.
"It made things a lot easier for all of us when we scored eight runs in the first inning," Westbrook said. "Our bats continue to come through for us, and our defense had another good outing. Lacie went out there and did what we wanted her to on the mound. It was a great all-around effort."
The Lady Rebels (9-5), who knocked NHHS out of last year's playoffs in the first round, seemed to settle down in the second and third innings. Pitcher Jessica Hardy was one out away from throwing her second straight scoreless frame, but the middle of the Lady Panthers' order would have none of it. Hardy threw first-pitch strikes most of the night, but NHHS rarely missed.
Hope Harber drove home Ashley Wilson with an RBI hit and scored on Lindsey Horne's double to left-center. Horne later scored on Hanna Hankins' blast to center and finished with a team-high three RBIs.
"Their pitcher was consistent, and I think that's one of the reasons we hit the ball so well," Harber said. "I think we were all pumped up and ready to hit the ball, and our aggressiveness paid off."
The Lady Panthers started another two-out rally in the fourth, as Chancey Harber singled on a two-strike pitch to start the inning. Wilson drove another 0-2 offering into the left-center field gap for an RBI triple and scored on Megan Baxter's single to right. It was all the scoring and more that Palmer would need.
Sam Rayburn's Christi Nichols reached on an error to start the fifth and stole two bases, but Palmer got the next three batters on fly outs, including two nifty catches by Wilson and another by Horne who had to dodge the on-deck batter. Westbrook said there were still a few things to work on before next week.
"The three stolen bases concerned me, because we weren't close to throwing her out," Westbrook said. "We'll work on that the next few days and see if we can't get that ironed out before our next game. The simple way to avoid stolen bases for us would be to keep them off base period, and that's what Lacie did so well for us tonight by allowing only five base runners."
NHHS is no stranger to big innings, having plated four runs in the first during last week's playoff win over Cumby. Four Sam Rayburn errors helped their cause as well.
With the score already 3-0 in the first, shortstop Sara Weir drove home Horne and Hankins with a solid single to left and scored on Wilson's hit. Scarlet Thompson reached on an infield bunt single and crossed the plate on a Baxter single to center.
Hope Harber drew a bases-loaded walk to score Ashley Hooten, while Wilson scored on Horne's hit. Weir and Horne each had two RBIs in the inning.
"It made us even more confident getting off to such a good start," Horne said. "We usually don't do this well at the beginning of games, but we've come through so far in the playoffs. We played our kind of game and were solid all the way around."
Palmer didn't allow a ball out of the infield that wasn't a hit. Weir took care of all three of her opportunities, while Wilson was inches away from making a remarkable catch in short-center from her second-base position in the first inning.
The Lady Panthers executed their bunt coverage to perfection, but the play of the game once again came from Hope Harber, who raced from third all the way in front of home plate to snag a Nichols' bunt attempt to end the second inning.
"Hope has certainly showed off her glove the past two games," Westbrook said. "That was one of the best catches you'll ever see."
Katie Skidmore led the Lady Rebels with two of their three hits.
The past two performances would satisfy most teams, but not this NHHS bunch.
"This was a very big accomplishment for us," said Horne, with Hope Harber nodding in agreement. "We've done something our program has never done before, but we still want more."